The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #9 May / June 2014
Words in Your Mouth
by Erik Zidowecki
May / June 2014 | 

Looking at a very meaty topic this month... sausages.

Most of us, with the likely exceptions of Buddhists and vegetarians, have probably eaten a sausage at one time or another. A sausage is, in general terms, a seasoned minced meat, usually pork or beef, traditionally stuffed in casings of prepared animal tissue, such as intestine, bladder or stomach.

In American English, sausages come in two basic forms. One is the "breakfast sausage", which is what we normally mean when we say "sausage". This is the grey meat packed in a skin and served up for our morning meal, normally with something like eggs in some form, or pancakes. The much more common sausage of the US is the "hot dog". This is the brownish sausage that is normally eaten in a roll, or "bun", along with condiments like relish, mustard, and catsup/ketchup.

The hot dog forms a staple of many Americans' diets. Another name used for it is "Frankfurter", referring to the German city "Frankfurt am Main", where this type of sausage originated from. Of course, the Germans don't call it a frankfurter. To them, it is a "Wiener", which refers in turn to Wienerwurst, or "Vienna Sausage". "Wiener" is also used in American English to refer to the sausage (e.g. the Oscar Meyer Wiener), but since it has come to take on a slang sexual connotation, it's probably best not to refer to a sausage in the US in this way.

Plate of sausages, sauerkraut, and potatoes

The word "Wurst" is the German word for "sausage" in general. From this, we get various forms of sausages: Bockwurst (large frankfurter), Bierwurst (beer sausage), Bratwurst (fried sausage), Rotwurst (blood sausage). Leberwurt (liver sausage), Lyoner (king-size frankfurter, taken from the city of Lyons), Mettwurst (made of smoked but otherwise raw meat and spread onto bread for eating), Hartwurst (salami), Griebenwurst (kind of liverwurst with grieben [roasted pig's fat]), and Bierschinken (blutwurst with boiled ham). Small sausages are called with the diminutive, Würstchen. Having similar words are the other Western Germanic languages, such as Afrikaans (wors), Dutch (worst), Frisian (woarst), and Luxembourgish (Wurscht).

The origins of "wurst/worst" are not clear, but three possibilities are:
• it belongs to the word group wirren in the sense of "something mixed"
• it belongs to the word group Werk in the sense of "something produced"
• it belongs to the word group werden in the sense of "something turned"

In German is the slang phrase "Das ist mir Wurst/Wurscht", which means "I don't care", or "es geht um die Wurst", meaning "something is very important, crucial".

The Northern Germanic languages have a different word, however. The Danish (pölse/pølser/poelse), Faeroese (pylsa), and Norwegian (pölse/pølser) obviously don't share the same origins as their West Germanic neighbors. However, the etymology of this word is unknown.

Bratwurst sausage with mustard in a roll

The word "sausage" has its roots in Latin. The late Latin "salsica" is a noun use of the neuter plural "salsīcius", meaning "made by salting". This goes back even further to the Latin salsus "salted", which is a derivative of sāl "salt". From these Latin roots, the Italic languages get their words: Italian (salsiccia), French (saucisse), Spanish (salchicha), Portuguese (salsicha), etc.

Among the Slavic languages, even with their different writing systems, the similarities are strikingly similar. The southern Slavic languages such as Serbian (кобасица / kobasica), and Croatian (kobasica); the western Slavic languages such as Czech (klobása / salám), Polish (kiełbasa), and Slovak (klobása); the eastern Slavics languages such as Belorussian (каўбаса / кілбаса), Russian (колбаса), and Ukrainian (ковбаса). The origins for these can most likely be traced back to Turkic kül bastï (grilled cutlet). "kül" means coals or ashes, and "bastï" means "pressed". So, literally, it's "pressed on the ashes".

The Finno-Ugric family has a rather odd mix. Hungarian has "kolbász", a slavic loanword, while Estonian's "vorst" was borrowed from West Germanic "Wurst".

Finnish, however, seems to have its own word, makkara, whose etymology I don't know. Finnish also uses the word "nakki" for small sausages, which was adapted from the Swedish "knackkorv".

The Greek "Λουκάνικο" (lukaniko) comes from the Latin Lucanicum, referring to the city of Lucca, Italy, in which it was made.

I was unable to track down an etymology for the Celtic words or the Swedish "korv", and I left the other languages for readers to explore on their own.


Sausages on sale outside of a Japanese shop

As was mentioned earlier, slang terms have developed around this popular meat. The term "hot dog" may have developed from the reference "sausage dog" for a dachshund in the 1930s. The dog, with its long body and short legs, was said to resemble a sausage. "Hot Dog" is also slang in English for someone who is skilled or proficient in some field, now more often used when someone is considered to be showing off: "While he is a skilled skier, some of his critics think he is too much of a hot-dog".

A slang term for a sausage in British slang is "banger", as in "bangers and mash" (sausages with mashed potatoes). Another British term is "not a sausage", which is a way of saying "nothing at all". For example, answering a query like "See anyone?" would be "Not a sausage.". I remember in the British radio program The Goon Show, the character "Bluebottle" comically announced his entrance with "Waits for audience applause... not a sausage".

The word "wiener" in English can also refer to a part of a male's anatomy, which resembles a sausage. The "bun" in which a hot dog is often placed in is also a reference to human anatomy: a person's backside. "She's got nice buns!" would be a male's way of expressing his appreciation for a woman's bottom. Needless to say, any number of references can then be created relating to placing wieners in buns.

Other Notes

I have been asked a few times about whether "hot dog" refers to just the sausage, or to the sausage and bun with condiments. I would say that depends on your region, upbringing, and context. If we use the meat in dish, then it is called a "hot dog". However, if someone states simply "We are having hot dogs for lunch", you can be pretty sure they mean the sausage with buns and fixings. This is similar to how we use "spaghetti". Spaghetti is the name of the pasta, but if someone says they are eating spaghetti for a meal, they will, at least in the US, most likely be referring to the pasta, sauce, and grated cheese. When I was asked the question about hot dogs while in Italy, I was also told that in Russia they would eat the hot dog with "French" fries in a bulky roll [both the fries and sausage in the roll], and call it a UFO, but I have been unable to confirm this.

I also found a direct adoption of the term into Spanish: "perro caliente".


Whether your sausage is "something mixed", "made by salting", or "pressed on the ashes", it has become a staple of many cultures' cuisines, and is enjoyed all over the world. If you have further comments or additions on this subject, please send them to

Other pictures related to sausages
From top-left, clockwise: Hot Dog stand in an amusement park; Hot Dog pushcart in New York; Dachshund, also called a weiner dog; Various sausages on sale in a delicatessen; Frankfurt, Germany, home of the frankfurter; Bangers mash on old China plate on wooden table
"Sausage" in many languages
Afrikaans: wors
Dutch: worst
English: sausage
Frisian: woarst
German: Wurst
Luxembourgish: Zoossiss / Wurscht
Danish: pølser
Faeroese: pylsa
Icelandic: pylsa
Norwegian: pølser
Swedish: korv
Calabrese: sazizza
Catalan: botifarra/salsitxa
French: saucisson / saucisse
Italian: salsiccia / salame
Portuguese: salsicha / chouriço
Romagnolo: zuzzezza
Romanian: cârnatul / cîrnat
Sardinian: campidanesu sartizzu
Spanish: salchichón / salchicha
Valencian: salchicha
Venetian: salsicia / luganega
Zeneize [dialect of Liguria]: säsissa / lugànega
Estonian: vorst
Finnish: makkara
Hungarian: kolbász
Greek: Λουκάνικο
Lithuanian: dešra
Czech: klobása
Polish kiełbasa
Slovak: klobása
Bulgarian: салам / наденица
Croatian: kobasica
Serbian: кобасица (kobasica)
Slovenian: klobasa
Belorussian: каўбаса / кілбаса
Russian: колбаса
Ukrainian: ковбаса
Breton: silzigenn
Irish: ispín
Scots-Gaelic: isbean
Welsh: selsig
Bahasa Indonesian: sosis
Filipino: langgonisa / batutay / soriso
Malagasy: saosisy
Tetum: xourisu
Turkish: sucuk / sosis
Chinese: 香腸 xiāngcháng - which literally means fragrant (香) intestines (腸)
Arabic: sogoq
Hebrew: נקניקית
Korean: sso-sse-i-je / sun-dae
Japanese: ソーセージ (soosaaji)
Esperanto: kolbaso

Words in Your Mouth - Sausage
Writer: Erik Zidowecki
wallyir: Hot Dog stand in an amusement park
dantada: Hot Dog pushcart in New York
Seemann: Various sausages on sale in a delicatessen; meat bin
Petey: Ordinary sausage making in Hungary. (splash page); sausages hanging in shop (title); Plate of sausages, sauerkraut, and potatoes; Bratwurst sausage with mustard in a roll; Sausages on sale outside of a Japanese shop; Bangers mash on old China plate on wooden table; Dachshund, also called a weiner dog

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.


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